Intended for healthcare professionals

Practice Essentials

Communicating with relatives

BMJ 2017; 359 doi: (Published 11 October 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;359:j4527

Re: Communicating with relatives

The emphasis on the primacy of the patient's wishes in this Practice paper is timely and very important: almost one in five older Irish individuals report having at least one member of their family with whom they do not wish clinical information to be shared, and 38% did not want information to be shared with relatives over the phone (1).

A useful further avenue for managing communication with the patient and family is through a carefully planned and prepared care planning meeting. Until recently there had been little guidance on how to conduct such meetings in terms for older patients with cognitive and communication deficits and other often complex needs. An added challenge is the wide, often diverse and conflicting range of perspectives held by health and social care professionals and other family members who may be involved (2). Useful guidelines have been developed which clarify how the sophisticated challenge of ensuring that the patient's voice and wishes can be honoured to the greatest extent possible through careful consultation, preparation and implementation of care planning meetings (3).

1. Phukan JFM, Cunney A, Getty S, O’Neill D. How is my mother, doctor? Ir J Med Sci. 2004;173(suppl 1):47.
2. Donnelly S, Cahill S, O’Neill D. Care Planning Meetings: Issues for Policy, Multi-disciplinary Practice and Patient Participation. Practice. 2017 Oct 13:1-9.
3. Donnelly, S. 2013. Care Planning Meetings: Best Practice Guidelines for Healthcare Professionals: An Individualised Approach to Patient Participation.

Competing interests: No competing interests

09 November 2017
Desmond O'Neill
Professor in Medical Gerontology
Trinity College Dublin
Trinity Centre for Health Sciences, Tallaght Hospital, Dublin D24 NR0A, Ireland